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Roger Bannister ran first four-minute mile

It was with great sadness that I did not read one word in The Union about the 50-year anniversary of the most historic four minutes in sports history. The 50-year anniversary of the running of the first four-minute mile, May 6, 2004.

In 1945, Gundar Haegg of Sweden had brought the mile record down to an amazingly close 4:01.4. But the chasing of this “impossible barrier” was again turned into an international event. Great runners from America, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, England, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium all tried but failed to run four laps of 440 yards in less than one minute each.

But between 1952 and 1954, three men rose to the top with the best chances to break the barrier. Wes Santee, an American collegiate runner with the University of Kansas, was a gifted runner, he had run 4:02.6 and 4:04.2 both indoors and outdoors, but was not allowed to use pacers and often could not get good runners to race him because they knew they would lose. But mainly, because he was a collegiate runner, his coach was interested in winning meets and scoring points.



In an incredible show of his ability, in a duel meet with the University of California at Berkeley, Santee won the 880 in 1:51.5, the mile in 4:05.5 and then came back to run a relay leg 440 yards in 48-flat. Possibly, if he would have been allowed to run only the mile, he might have been the first to break the barrier.

John Lanky of Australia came off the best training of his life to run 4:02.1, a nine-second PR and launch himself into the hunt. Landy ran all over Australia and Europe, running incredible miles in the 4:02 range. On April 19, 1954, less than three weeks before Roger Bannister’s run, John Landy was running on a freshly rolled grass track in Australia. On the first lap, Landy’s track shoe kicked up a lost football stud. Its sharp nail pierced his shoe and foot. For four laps, Landy ran that way to a time of 4:02.6.




Roger Bannister was a medical student at Oxford University. Much of his time that could have been used for training was taken up with studies. He realized he had the ability to break the barrier after running in a small high school meet at Motspur Park, near London. With a pacer, he ran 4:02.0, the fastest since Haegg’s 4:01.4. Bannister took the advice of a coach that said he was too much of a loner and needed to train with his buddies, Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway.

On May 6, 1954, the three runners warmed up nervously, checking the wind on a tower near the track. As they were called to the start of the mile, they realized the flag drooped straight down and they knew it was a GO! Brasher took the first two laps in a solid 1:58 with Bannister nervously yelling for him to GO! Then it was Chataway who led the next one and one-half laps. Bannister waited until he came out of the last turn and then bolted towards the finish in an astonishing time of three minutes, 59.4 seconds! He had won the race to become the first man to break four minutes!


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